If you’re a Georgia Bulldogs fan, you have to mark January 2009 as a month of change. Mark Richt knew if he was going to contend for SEC Titles, he needed to have the Bulldog defense playing like it did under former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. To no surprise, Willie Martinez was shown the door. Richt decided to look to the NFL ranks and brought in Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Todd Grantham. This was by far the best coaching move Richt has made in his decade in Athens.
Grantham has turned around the Georgia defense in just two years on the job. In 2011, the Bulldogs ranked fifth nationally in total defense, third in third down defense, fifth in interceptions and seventh in turnovers gained (32), which was good enough for first in the SEC.
Moving forward to 2012, the Bulldogs return nine starters, and 20 of the top 22 from last years highly ranked defense. Grantham’s 3-4 scheme has shown to be effective, and why not with the anchor in the middle John Jenkins.
Jenkins is a monster, and the premier nose tackle in the SEC, at 6’3″ and 351 pounds he is as close to unblockable as anyone in college football. If Jenkins isn’t enough to give opposing offensive coordinators fits, his backup Kwame Geathers is just as lethal. Geathers and Jenkins combine for for over 700 pounds of nastiness along the Bulldogs’ defensive front.
At linebacker, Georgia returns one of the best in the country in sack master Jarvis Jones. Jones burst onto the SEC scene in 2011, redshirting in 2010 after transferring from Southern California. Jones led the SEC in sacks with 13.5. He could have left for the greener pastures of the NFL, but decided he needed to get faster, so he returned to Athens.
Joining Jones is inside linebacker, Alec Ogletree. Ogletree moved from strong safety last year, and despite a broken foot, he started eight games making 52 tackles and forcing three fumbles.
The two game suspension of junior Chase Vasser for a DUI arrest will not be as big a deal as some may think. The dawgs have three true freshman: Jordan Jenkins, Josh Dawson and James DeLoach, all three of whom have impressed in the early days of fall camp and are set to see playing time.
When you talk about defense, the ability to play man to man coverage in the secondary is very important. This allows a defensive coordinator to bring pressure from all angles, not having to worry if opposing receivers are going to be left, running wide open. Todd Grantham definitely has this luxury, as the Bulldogs return all four starters in the secondary and add Malcolm Mitchell from the offensive side of the ball.
Branden Smith and Sanders Cummings will man the corners. Unfortunately for Cummings, he will have to wait until the Florida Atlantic game as he will miss the first two games serving a suspension. Smith, who was arrested with marijuana in March, has subsequently been cleared and will be in the lineup September 1 vs Buffalo. Due to all the legal trouble, Mitchell made the jump from wide receiver over to defensive back. Mitchell impressed at cornerback, but how much we will actually see him remains to be seen.
At the safety position, the Bulldogs are stocked with All American Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams. Just like Cummings, Rambo suffered some offseason legal trouble and will be suspended for the first four games of the 2012 season. This will put the focus square on Williams in the back end. Fortunately for Bulldog fans, Williams is as solid as they come. A wild card in the secondary may be Josh Harvey Clemons. Clemons was ranked as the number one outside linebacker prospect in 2012. At 6’5″ and 207 pounds, he just doesn’t have the frame to compete at linebacker right now, but with the suspensions in the secondary, Clemons could see some early playing time this season.
When you look at what should be the top defenses of 2012, a few schools come to mind: LSU, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Michigan State and Texas. None of these have the total combination of athletes at every position like the Georgia Bulldogs. When you talk about a complete defense, from defensive line to linebacker, then to the secondary, Georgia has elite talent and playmakers at all 11 positions. Bringing back 20 of the top 22 only adds to what I think will be, the best defense in the country in 2012.